Theoretical Framework in Social Sciences Research
Human society continues to develop only through progressive development of knowledge. Different levels of social, economic, technological, political and even cultural development are attributed to different attention and concern society gives to scientific research.
Yes! Research is a scientific exercise which could be used to criticize and correct previous work as well as to move into another or new findings to construct new body of knowledge. Thus, it contributes to the growth of knowledge.
From another point of view Science and Research may or may not be the same. Each may be identified separately from the other. But while Science is generally accepted as a system, a research with criteria of Science is also a system or is a system of science. So, while the two are not necessarily the same, it has been said that "the theory of science becomes essentially the theory of research" (Augusto F. and Paolo B. 1981:39).
In political inquiry in particular, the relationship between science and research is less confusing as a model or models are developed which bridges the gap between interpretative and descriptive method.
On the basis of this consideration the need for theoretical framework in any social research exercise arises. From methodological point of view this falls under the broad framework called methodology by social science researchers.
However, methodology is different from method. While the latter means the research techniques or tools used to gather data, the former is the philosophy of the research process. This includes the assumptions and theory of the research as well as the standards or criteria the researchers uses for interpreting data and reaching conclusion.
As a whole, research methodology is the research's theoretical framework, which influence and shape researchers conception, test of hypotheses and analysis of data.
Thus, here is the need to know what is a theory, and a theoretical framework. They are concepts but are not two entirely different things.
A common outlook of a theory is first a range of uses it has both in science and in everyday life. In this sense, a theory is seen as any idea in contrast to fact or common sense. In other words it is an idealized, hypothetical, speculative, a belief, opinion value and subjective matter to verify, ascertain and actualized.
These are in ordinary usages but sometimes students used them wrongly or inadequately in scientific research with aim to develop scientific knowledge.
Therefore, what really is a theory in social science research, the following senses are imperative:
- Theory is an ordering framework which allows observational data to be used for predicting and explaining empirical events.
- Theory is conceptualization, in which to theorise means to make an abstraction or an abstract explanation of a social phenomenon.
- Theory is also often used inter-changeably with hypotheses or explanation.
These alternative meanings of theory and their uses varies across social sciences. For example, (i) above is more common in discipline where many of the empirical data have been cast in mathematical form e.g. in economics. This is also the same in (iii) above, where theory as hypotheses is when observational data are in quantitative forms. This originated and is most common in sociology.
The third one is unfortunately surrounded by non-scientific criteria, yet it has become institutionalized as the standard expectation of research for B.Sc.; M.Sc.; and PhD; in Department of Political Science, Bayero University, Kano, and those who reject these are likely to incur disapproved by the research supervisors.
Theory as conceptualization or as an abstraction is more common in subjects characterized by fundamental divisions and considerable philosophical, critical and methodological re-examination of social phenomenon. Both sociology and political science could make use of this option.
This perspective of theory may look, to young and inexperienced researchers as something which may obstruct the scientific character of a research. However, the fear is real and should not be underestimated, but in a broad sense, both the characteristic of science and research can be seen as one single elements of a system in formation and advancement of knowledge.
This will bring us to the value of philosophy and or epistemology to social science research. This is when building a theory one should allow room for critical question including to build elements which could falsify it or give negative evidence.
Bringing philosophical value into research will mean that "research is not limited to producing new knowledge and improving the general picture as it is already known, but sets out to analyse problems from the theoretical and practical point of view, identify the essence and causes, study their correct position within the picture of the influence and relations, work out methods of approach and sharper the instruments which can be adopted when action has to be carried out in order to give concrete solutions" (Paolo B. 1981:41).
It can be said that some social science disciplines rely only on theory as 'ordering framework' or theory as 'hypothesis' but political science makes use of all the three. This is not surprising as political inquiry in the sense of solving human social problems cannot do without the contribution of all disciplines, and if it does not, is doomed to failure. Thus, from methodological point of view political methodology is derived largely from other discipline.
Many centuries ago Aristotle, the father of politics uses the rest of the sciences, and it legislates as to what we are to do and what we are to abstain from, the end of this science must include those of others" (Almond G. A. 1996:51). Furthermore, it is characterized by Aristotle as "war-mad-man" or use that as always being in 'garage sales of other disciplines' methodologist.
Thus, political science is perhaps the only discipline in the group of social sciences that has not entered into methodological crisis in the face of paradigm shift in social sciences, since the advent of current globalization.
Nevertheless, it is obvious that there is bound to have some difficulties or inadequacies in production of knowledge. For instance, what political science researchers to do with old paradigms in face of new reality and vice-versa. Similarly, how is he/she going to deal with paradigm disputes in the sense of when confronted with many paradigms to explain a massive single data. Finally, how do we, from methodological point of view assess knowledge which is more theoretical and another which is more empirical.
In reality, the adequacy or inadequacy of the relationship between theory and data shows how the research conceptualizes and the degree of knowledge that is developed. The view that data is knowledge is just naivety. Facts do not speak for themselves. A theory is needed in the subsequent stages of ordering, explaining and perhaps predicting the facts. This notwithstanding that empirical observation may be theory-loaded and an apparently theoretical subject may be called an empirical observation. Yet, the distinction between theory and data is indisputable, but the distance between the two is doubtful as anything in scientific discourse, theory is to increasingly influence empirical observation.
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M. M. Yusif
Department of Political Science
Bayero University, Kano – Nigeria